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Empathy in Customer Experience: A Key Loyalty Driver

Two people hug and comfort each other. Empathy in customer experience can be a powerful tool for generating long-term loyalty.

Why is empathy important in customer experience? Because while customers will always want a good product or service at a reasonable price, that alone is not sufficient.

Customers also want someone at the other end of the phone or keyboard or display counter who understands their needs and tries hard to help.

They want empathy.

And that gives empathy a key role in delivering exceptional customer experience.

If a company representative exhibits a basic understanding of a customer’s situation or request – and explains how he or she is trying to help – it can make up for not being able to immediately solve the problem.

Even just a friendly tone of voice can go a long way. It can make a customer feel heard, their feelings validated, their concerns legitimized.

One customer support blog puts it well: “Empathy is the capacity to affirm a customer’s feelings and indicate that you can understand their frustration or pain –  even if the problem was out of your control. In other words, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – understanding their perspective from their point of view.”

Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, lives this philosophy by requiring all new hires to take customer service calls. “We’re so serious about empathy and connection that every person in the company goes through customer service training,” said Brian Kalma, a Zappos official.

The company also operates a remarkable Customer Service for Anything program, allowing anyone to call, text, or email Customer Service about anything, During the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant Zappos representatives helped a customer decide what to get a relative for an 80th birthday celebration – and listened to single parents who just needed to vent to other adults.

Empathy and Customer Experience are Directly Linked

The importance of empathy in customer experience is easily documented.

In the first place, customer experience is itself critical to keeping customers engaged. One consumer survey showed that 76 percent of respondents would stop doing business with a company after a single bad experience.

While high prices were the most important reason for cutting off a company, a bad phone experience was second. The most critical component of a bad phone experience: rude agents.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

In other words, empathy is the opposite of rudeness.

So it only stands to reason that a lot of consumers would view empathy as important in customer support interactions. Sure enough, 96 percent of consumers do, according to a different survey.

The data could not be more clear – empathy is everything.

This is especially true in the age of automation, with artificial intelligence and machine learning playing a growing role in helping businesses with a variety of tasks, including dealing with customers.

While we can teach machines empathy in theory, no one quite exhibits it like a human.

Brand representatives can show empathy by listening to customers, acknowledging their feelings and concerns, personalizing the experience where possible – and trying their best to remain friendly even if the customer grows agitated.

Experts suggest practicing potential call scenarios and using soothing and understanding phrases such as “I am sorry you are having difficulty,” or “I apologize – I can only imagine how frustrating this experience must be.”

Then, experts agree, do your best to solve the problem.

Empathy Examples

When a woman arrived in Costa Rica for her sister’s wedding and realized she had forgotten her bridesmaid dress, Southwest Airlines could not have been more empathetic.

After she tweeted at Southwest asking for help, the airline tweeted back “Alright, let’s do it!” – and flew the dress to the wedding free of charge, documented the journey on Twitter with the hashtag #RescueTheDress.

At OXO kitchen and homewares company, the origin DNA is “steeped in empathy” – the founder noticed his wife’s arthritic hands struggling to use a metal vegetable peeler.

Today, that empathy is woven into OXO’s work through seeking out customer feedback and designing products, such as measuring cups, to be more user-friendly. One OXO executive said the company marketing team’s job is to communicate empathy for consumers, which often “simply means writing functional explanations of what the product does.”

Other brands show their empathy for customers through good works or social justice initiatives. Airbnb, for example, provides hosts with the option of making their property temporarily available to people in need of housing who are victims of disasters or are refugees seeking asylum.

Airbnb established an independent nonprofit to help with the mission. As of last year, it had connected nearly 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers to emergency stays.

How To Add Empathy To Your Customer Experience

Here are some ways companies can infuse more empathy into their customer service and customer experiences:

  • Active Listening: Train customer service representatives to practice active listening, ensuring they fully understand the customer’s concerns before responding. This demonstrates that the company values the customer’s input and is genuinely interested in finding a solution.
  • Personalized Responses: Encourage representatives to avoid overly scripted responses. Personalization can show that the agent recognizes and respects the unique situation of each customer. Treat each customer as a human being, not as an account number.
  • Follow-Up: Always follow up with customers to ensure a satisfactory resolution. This will show them that you genuinely care about getting things right, and provides an additional opportunity for support if needed.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Create easy and accessible ways for customers to provide feedback on their experiences and suggest improvements. This not only helps businesses adapt and evolve but also makes customers feel valued and listened to.
  • Employee Empowerment: Empower employees by giving them the authority to make small decisions in customer interactions. This can lead to faster resolution of problems and shows trust in employees’ judgment, which they can pass on as trust towards customers.
  • Celebrating Empathy: Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate exceptional empathy. Share inspiring examples from other companies as well. Celebrating these examples can encourage a company-wide culture of empathy.

By integrating these strategies, companies can enhance their interactions with customers, fostering long-term loyalty and satisfaction through genuinely empathetic service.

The image in this article was generated with Adobe Firefly using AI.

For more: Resolving Customer Disputes: Patience, Empathy, And The Ability To Walk Away

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